What are the chances?
A Modesto man running in two separate small-district elections on the Nov. 7 ballot ended up tied with another candidate, unbelievably, in both.
Rudy Caro, 61, in past years has served on both boards — the Burbank-Paradise Fire Protection District and the Riverdale Park Tract Community Services District — and campaigning this time was limited to chatting with friends and neighbors, he said. He agreed that the dead-heat outcome in not just one race, but two, is incredibly weird.
Caro tied for first with another incumbent, Pamela Hillar, in the fire board race, both with 179 votes. Both will keep their seats, because three were up for grabs.
(In another bizarre twist, the third successful candidate is Caro's wife, Diana Culwell-Caro, also an incumbent. And Hillar is married to former Fire Chief Mike Hillar, who was fired in July after 26 years with the district, seven at the top. But those are stories for another time.)
The Riverdale photo finish, however, won't end so neatly.
In that race, Caro and incumbent Duane Shugart both finished second in a race with only two openings. By state law, they'll have to determine the winner by lot, meaning they'll flip a coin, roll a die, cut a card deck, draw straws or employ some other similar tie-breaker. That's likely to happen when the board meets Dec. 7.
In this year's smallest election in Stanislaus County, Caro and Shugart both captured Riverdale seats with — you might want to sit down for this news — nine votes each. First-place finisher Linda Nunes, also an incumbent had 11. Another incumbent, George Bixler, finished out of the money with five.
Riverdale Park Tract has a Modesto address, but the community of 189 homes actually is nestled in a bend of the Tuolumne River southwest of the city.
Although the election featured very little campaigning, politics here are fierce. Factions speak of a serious power struggle, allegations of residency fraud, uranium contamination, voter intimidation, and the potential for bankruptcy or dissolution. Not to mention some on the board refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance.
Rudy Caro served eight years on the water board, as neighbors call it, for eight years before Shugart and Bixler ousted him in the last election. (Caro's wife serves on this board too; again, a story for another day.)
Neighbors cast a total of 34 votes; if every person voted for two candidates, as allowed, that could mean as few as 17 people participated.
But some Riverdale neighbors did not cast two votes for the water board, or even one, because election officials found a total of 10 undervotes. That signifies people who voted for something else on the ballot, such as the Measure S library tax, but failed to vote at least once for the water board.
If any of those people had checked just one more box for Caro or Shugart, they wouldn't have this problem. And a lot is riding on the tie-breaker.
"It's all in an uproar, " Caro said. "But a lot of people don't vote because they don't want to stir anything up."
Other notes from the Nov. 7 ballot:
- Absentee voting was extremely popular this time, with 87.1 percent of ballots from across Stanislaus County arriving in the mail. That compares to 73.7 percent a year ago, and to 83.5 percent four years ago.
- Participation was dismal, with only 21 1/2 percent turnout across the county. That compares with 23 percent in 2013 and 22.8 percent four years before that. November elections in even-numbered years fare much better, with higher profile races; last year, turnout for the presidential election was 73.4 percent.
- Turnout in some individual races was even worse. For example, only 12.5 percent cast votes in Area 7 of Modesto City Schools to elect Adolfo Lopez, compared to Area 5 won by Charlene West, which featured 23 percent turnout. Both were open races without incumbents.
- All three Modesto City Council races, by contrast, were won by incumbents, although they also featured a disappointing spread in turnout. Only 17.7 percent voted in the District 2 race won by Councilman Tony Madrigal, compared to 27.6 percent in Councilwoman Jenny Kenoyer's District 5, and 25.1 percent in Councilman Bill Zoslock's District 4.
Seen another way, Madrigal won by capturing only 1,405 votes — less than half that of both Kenoyer (3,011 votes) and Zoslocki (3,267 votes).
- The race with the most undervotes, by far, was for Salida Fire board, where from 615 to 1,844 people had the ability to vote for up to three of four candidates but failed to vote at least once.
That could suggest that some people were drawn to vote in a higher-interest race and didn't bother to weigh in on the fire board. That other race? Modesto Irrigation District's Division 4, covering Salida, northwest Modesto and Wood Colony.
Challenger Stu Gilman wrested that seat from incumbent Jake Wenger in the area's only contest not definitively decided on Election Day, remaining too close to call until final results were posted Thursday.
Gilman rode a wave of dissatisfaction among MID electricity customers to win by 124 votes among 5,609 cast, the highest total among all individual elections.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390